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Thanks For the Memories
1:35 P.M., TUESDAY, MARCH 30, 2010

JUSTIN CANGE

Thanks For the Memories

For a good portion of the game Sunday night, it all seemed so certain, didn't it? Energized by a salivating crowd of 40,000 Baylor fanatics, the Bears went punch for punch with America's version of basketball royalty in Duke.

They overcame an early seven point deficit, roaring back with brilliant play on both sides of the ball and when Lace hit Tweety on a fast break 3 to give the Bears a six point lead, I thought the roof might blow off Reliant Stadium.

I also remember goose bumps.

And feeling numb.

And wondering if this was really was some sort of dream.

There we were, playing on center stage, the weekend's biggest game, with the regional's number one seed on the ropes and a final four berth staring us in the face.

You had to wonder how this all happened.

As a program, Baylor was only a few weeks removed from being on the cusp of the AP and coaches poll's top 25. A vast majority of the country had never seen this team play before. Not once had I even muttered the words `national champion dark horse' to anybody, even while getting carried away with my own lofty aspirations.

Oh yeah, and we were picked to finish 10th in the preseason...in the conference.

Yet, there we were, looking every bit as capable as Duke to stamp the field's final ticket to Indianapolis.

Unfortunately, the breaks did not go our way down the stretch. Foul trouble, free throw shooting, second chance points and a litany of three pointers from Duke guards were just enough to carry the Blue Devils back to the final four.

Duke could win it all now. They might also have their toughest test behind them with Baylor out of their way.

And that's where the program stands today.

An emotional coach Drew sat beside an equally choked up Lace, Tweety and Epke at the post game press conference and repeatedly reminded everyone that while the season is over, the program's improvement has just begun.

And while Lace, Drew and hopefully Epke will each be here next season to contribute to another memorable season, two invaluable seniors leave this team, none more responsible for the Hollywood script-like turnaround of this program than Tweety.

Carter, the heart and soul of this Baylor team leaves a program destined to start the year ranked in the top ten. Five years ago, he was greeted in Waco by a program that only offered one thing: hope.

For those of you still reeling from Sunday's loss, just remember a new set of freshmen are about to set foot on Baylor's campus being pitched the same thing: hope.

Only this time the goal is much more clear, return to the same court in Houston next year when space city hosts the final four. That's where Baylor basketball stands now.

2010 was a statement year for this program.

That statement was made loud and clear: we have arrived.

We'll be back.


Wild Night is Calling
9:55 A.M., SATURDAY, MARCH 27, 2010

JUSTIN CANGE

Wild Night is Calling

And everything looks so complete.

On the school's biggest stage, in front of a program-record crowd and on a night they had to be great, Baylor was perfect.

St. Mary's ran into the buzz saw that is Baylor basketball, Cinderella got outworked and is now on their way back to California.

Lace and Tweety picked up where they left off on Saturday, combining for 37 points, Epke, Josh and Anthony Jones cleaned the glass, AJ Walton came off the bench with a spark and great defense and Jim Nantz was introduced to Quincy Acy, aka the Cookie Monster.

Coach Drew couldn't hold back that smile we've seen so frequently lately. In the waning moments of the second half Drew led the ovation for about 15 thousand delirious Baylor fans. It was an absolute perfect moment.

A perfect night.

And don't think Duke's fans weren't taken notice. After defeating opponents in the Southland, Colonial, and now the West Coast conference, BU's shot at making the biggest splash in the tourney will come against arguably the nation's most elite program.

Friday night the Bears climbed to a new peak; our first appearance in the elite eight, a school-record 28 wins and a night the program and its fans will never forget.

Come on out and dance, Baylor fans.


Right Here, Right Now
6:55 A.M., TUESDAY, MARCH 23, 2010

JUSTIN CANGE

Right Here, Right Now

And with that, Baylor's season has officially become legendary.

With that, Baylor University reaches a new level of national exposure.

With that, Josh Lomers is the former unheralded senior that saved our season.

Scoring 14 points on just eight shots, Lomers picked the 11th hour to have the game of his career. When Old Dominion finally neutralized the Bears highlight reel first half, the Bears placed a collect call to get to the tourney's third round. Lomers accepted the charges.

Unlike Thursday's opening round win, knocking off the Monarchs took a total team effort. Lace was Lace, Tweety played his best game in three weeks, Anthony Jones was great on both sides of the ball, Quincy dunked and yelled.

But Lomers baskets down the stretch were the difference and upon fouling out with the victory in our grasp, the Baylor faithful in New Orleans gave him the proper thanks; a prolonged standing ovation.

BU is advancing to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament and with that, the largest alumni gathering in school history is about to convene in Space City.

Seems fitting, this season has been out of this world.

Our players, our coaching staff and even some of our fans are saying a lot of the right things.

`We still have work to do."

"We didn't come here to just win twice."

"We still have something to prove."

While I agree that this team should remain hungry, focused and possessed, this IS a win and a time to soak up and relish in what this team has provided its fans.

First came respectability, then came a bit of intrigue, now our beloved basketball program, the once afterthought of the entire conference (if not the nation), has given everyone with any affiliation to Baylor University a reason to beam.

And every one of you is welcome to their unofficial coming out party in Houston.

Right now, there is no other place I'd rather be.


Alive
9 A.M., SATURDAY, MARCH 20, 2010

JUSTIN CANGE

Alive

One game at a time, remember?

The Bears certainly didn't rack up a bunch of style points yesterday in edging Sam Houston State on day one of what is already proving to be a mad March. All that matters, however, is that they'll be staying in New Orleans for another two nights.

And with it being the program's first win in the big dance since the proliferation of America's interstate highway system, who are we to be picky?

For roughly 38 basketball minutes yesterday, the game was very much in question. Sam Houston State developed an effective inside game, produced plenty of wide open looks from behind the arc and did a great job of neutralizing Louisianimals LaceDarius and Tweety.

That, of course, opened the door for Ekpe who performed his best Danny Manning, a la 1988 Kansas, in putting the team on his back. Udoh did just about everything but work the possession arrow on press row yesterday. For every poor offensive set, or misguided jump shot, Udoh showed a solid, headstrong maturity that kept this team in a spot to prevail in the end.

And when Quincy Acy, Anthony Jones and Lace were there to relieve our junior standout, the Bearkats didn't have an answer.

We've said it before; this BU team can win any number of ways. SHSU did a lot right yesterday, but BU had competed and won similar low-scoring tilts like this before and there was plenty of reason to believe that it was only a matter of time before this team met this challenge head on and succeeded. Once again, it was a thunderous dunk from Acy that finally gave the Bears their mojo and a lead that they would never relinquish.

Baylor has advanced to the round of 32 and the monkey that we all felt on our back is officially gone.

Our hopes for having the nation's fastest-growing bandwagon in the team's home state are still alive.


I Raise a Toast to All of Us
10:45 A.M., WEDNESDAY, MARCH 17, 2010

JUSTIN CANGE

I Raise a Toast to All of Us

Wasn't Sunday great? 60 of the 64 teams had been told of their NCAA fate as the selection show winded down and rather than getting cotton mouthed and having heart palpitations, Baylor fans everywhere were salivating.

As our fellow Big 12 tourney goers got picked, it became more and more apparent that our conference, as a whole, was getting massive respect from the selection committee.

Tennessee got a six, Maryland got a five, and Wisconsin got a four. Meanwhile Baylor waited ...and waited. When CBS revealed the South region, the team and its fans that had shown up at the Ferrell Center knew exactly how this was going to play out.

A three seed headed to New Orleans.

Unlike college football where playing on national TV, promoting Heisman candidates and remaining ranked in the AP top 25 really does influence your `postseason placement', justice is actually served in college hoops.

With the exception of a few teams on the proverbial bubble, the computers do all the work and after calculating everyone's RPI, strength of schedule and countless other measurements, Baylor finally got what they deserved; national respect.

It was well earned.

And predictably the talking heads have started to turn. We've all heard them these past 36 hours. We're a trendy pick to make the elite eight, some think we can beat Duke, many seem to think we can handle Notre Dame with ease, others have noticed that a possible regional final with A&M in Houston could be the biggest brawl Reliant Stadium has seen since last year's WrestleMania.

It may be tough, but we need not get ahead of ourselves here. Yes, we're a three seed and thus on paper the odds are good that BU will make it to the second weekend of the tourney, but there's a reason they call this event March Madness. There's a reason why 50 million Americans fill out brackets every year and there's a reason why corporate America's productivity is about to take a leave of absence.

So with that, there's a reason to take this one game at a time.

The Bears are back in the big dance and Thursday afternoon can't get here soon enough. There's no greater time of year to be a fan.

As Baylor fans, we've earned this.


Calm Like a Bomb
7:04 P.M., SATURDAY, MARCH 13, 2010

JUSTIN CANGE

Calm like a Bomb

Well, things may not have worked out the way I had drawn them up for Kansas City. As we put the finishing touches on the last entry before selection Sunday, CIL is being penned on press row of the nation's largest and loudest state championship. Kansas and Kansas State are just about to tip off the final of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship and there's only one problem.

My team is already back home in Waco.

So the nearly four hour trek here with a friend was somewhat unsatisfactory. We didn't see a W, the online connection on press row wasn't strong enough to allow me to do much of anything during the game, and ESPN sent Erin Andrews to cover the ACC tourney.

I can't help but feel just slightly disappointed that the Bears aren't playing in front of me (as opposed to two schools I honestly couldn't care less about) for the conference crown.

But that statement alone warrants repeating as it should be noted that our program has arrived at the point where we expect this level of success.

So despite the frantic scene here in Fountain City, the waters are still back in Waco. BU players, staff and fans have one last night of rest before the true mayhem of this season ensues. BU put up a heck of a fight last night before getting outlasted by a terrific K State team. I was reminded of this by every K State fan in and around the Sprint Center and KC's revitalized Power and Light district last night. I learned that losing to Kansas State in hoops is a lot like losing to Nebraska in football, the fanbase of both teams make it easier to stomach.

Either way, you probably watched the game last night and after ten basketball minutes thought that this Baylor team was capable of running the Wildcats out of the gym. I did as well. The only problem is K State is really well coached (or at least yelled to), they made very few mistakes and their guard play is among the best in the country.

Teams like this will be problematic for us in the tournament.

For now, however, the BU program and its fans should do nothing but revel in this fantastic season. Unlike two years ago, we can watch the brackets get unveiled with relative comfort this year. While some sources have us as a three seed, others a four and a few misguided soles as a five, all that really matters is this group has produced a season waaaay better than anything we as fans could have hoped for. We should all be thrilled when our name is called tomorrow night, regardless of who we play or where we go.

The fact that some of us won't be, tells us just how far we've come.

For the hoop connoisseurs amongst us, the wait is over. For everyone else, welcome to the greatest 60 minute sports drama of the year.

March Madness has never ever been this fun.


Party in the USA
4:30 A.M. TUESDAY, MARCH 9, 2010

JUSTIN CANGE

Party in the USA

Wow. What a statement.

What a season.

What a way for our seniors to close the curtain on their home career.

As good as Coach Drew's in-game play calling has been this year, his program did one better Saturday with a day that could not have been `drawn up' any better.

In pummeling the rival Longhorns at home, in front of countless recruits, a record home crowd and a national television audience, the Bears hosted a 120 minute informercial on why they should no longer be slept on as an elite program.

Games like Saturday can be become program-defining wins. For Baylor, yesterday was just that as well as the ultimate culmination for what will likely be remembered as a legendary season. All that coincided with the program's first win over the rival Longhorns in Waco in 12 years.

Not a bad day to be a Baylor fan I'd say.

The love fest for all that had transpired within the last two hours (on top of the last four seasons) continued at the Ferrell Center long after the ESPN cameras went dark. Drew, the ultimate master of ceremonies grabbed the mic, thanked the fans and handed it over to two of the program's most influential seniors in recent memory, Josh Lomers and Tweety Carter.

I can only imagine how hard it would be to remain composed at the moment for either of those guys. How can you put into words what they have witnessed, battled through and overcome since setting foot on campus?

Maybe the real question is how, as fans, can you thank these guys enough?

Tweety and Josh committed to the Baylor program during a season that featured ONE conference victory, NCAA sanctions and unparalleled uncertainty about the future of the program.

Saturday night, they stood at center court before a raucous and delirious fan base representing a program that had just put the finishing touches on their best season is sixty years.

They had every reason to get choked up.

The Bears saved the best for last Saturday. Of the team's 24 wins this season, Saturday was the most memorable, the most entertaining and the most convincing over a team that will join them in the round of 64 one week from today.

The Bears stormed to an 11-5 finish in the conference season, winning seven of their last eight. The monkey of OU and UT that had been on this team's back for the last decade is now the whipping boy. These guys didn't take a night off all season, they continued to prove naysayers wrong and will have the program's best shot ever at winning the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship Tournament when things get underway in Kansas City Wednesday morning.

Analysis of the upcoming tournaments can wait, what the Bears gave us yesterday will be remembered for years to come.

Lomers and Carter would have wanted it that way from the very beginning.


Time Has Come Today
9:15 A.M. MONDAY, MARCH 1, 2010

JUSTIN CANGE

Time Has Come Today

With February now in the rear view mirror, Baylor moves into the final week of the regular season with only question remaining: how memorable will this March be?

Even the most cautious optimist has to like our chances in both games this week. A road trip to Lubbock Tuesday night and then what should be a memorable senior day in Waco on Saturday against the Horns are all that's left before the tournaments begin and this blog reaches new levels of neuroticism.

With the historic win in Norman on Saturday the Bears are in position to achieve a program record with 10 or 11 conference wins, they currently stand on the verge of their first ever bye in the Big 12 Conference Tournament and the team's rapidly climbing RPI is sure to catch plenty of attention for the selection committee when our seed is set to be unveiled in two weeks.

What a great time to be a Baylor fan.

My friends at Full Court Press were quick to emphasize just how historic (there's that word again) this season has already been. It's not every season the Bears win in Austin. We hadn't won in Norman in over 30 years. Heck, I'll be thrilled if we sweep Tech again.

Simply put, this team is doing things no other Baylor team in our generation has. With 22 victories already under our belt, this team and it' fans should take a moment to relish what has already been a spectacular season.

But knowing this team, we still have plenty to look forward to. In our six losses, our opponents have taken our best punch. Colorado practically shot the lights out in Boulder, Jacob Pullen willed K State to a two point win in what will hopefully be our only home loss of the season. Nobody played as well as Baylor did against Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse this year. Oh, and add those same Jayhawks to the list of teams that learned how hard it is to win in Stillwater.

This team has shown up to play each and every night.

The Bears will reappear in both top 25 polls later today. An outsider might know a thing or two about how we've hovered around the nation's top 30 teams this year. They might know a bit about Ekpe or LaceDarius or Tweety. The ambiguity (albeit declining) is probably a motivating factor for our guys anyway.

If this team's shown us anything this year, it's that they're capable of playing on any gym against anybody in the country, yet we still thrive on being overlooked.

Rest assured, with a pair of wins this week to close out the regular season, the Bears will find themselves in a unique position: the hottest team in the conference.

The timing couldn't be any better.

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